The Impacts WINTER Most climate models predict shorter, warmer winters for Yellowknife and much of the North. Fewer cold days will affect the formation and persistence of ice, which will make travel on the land more perilous. As we have seen in recent years, the erosion of winter affects hunters, skiers, and ice road truckers alike.
SUMMER Though we will continue to see dry and wet summers, these cycles will be more intense. We can also expect more summers like 2018 when Yellowknife broke rainfall records and flooded basements made headlines.
HEALTH Less or different kinds of wild meat and harvested plants will impact the health of local residents dependent on country food. With unchecked climate change, we can also expect to see a rise in vectorborne illness, like Lyme Disease and West Nile Virus.
A longer open water season will result in greater evaporation and more dramatic swings in water levels, though on the whole, local water levels are expected to continue to decline. Fishers will see an increase in warm water species like northern pike and less whitefish and lake trout. Even with declining water levels, the big lake will remain an important source of freshwater.
FORESTS Warmer temperatures, increased precipitation, permafrost loss, and more extreme fire events are and will continue to transform local forests. A study from the University of Alaska predicts that in a high emissions scenario Yellowknife forests in 2100 will look like those in Peace River today, though it’s unclear if our soils can support this change. More extreme wildfire seasons, like the Summer of Smoke (2014), will affect the physical and mental health of Yellowknifers.
Nearby caribou populations
have experienced drastic declines in recent decades. Extirpation is almost assured in both medium and high emissions scenarios, a devastating outcome for Dene, for whom caribou is much more than a food source. Moose populations are expected to suffer a similar fate, though over a longer period. As ranges shift with a warming climate, biologists predict an increase in “invasive species” like deer, which bring other challenges, such as chronic wasting disease.
Climate change could result
in increased agricultural productivity in the NWT, though this is more likely in places like Hay River and Fort Simpson than in Yellowknife, where our rocky topography and nutrient poor soils limit large-scale agriculture.
Sources: Climate Atlas of Canada (Prairie Climate Centre); Chloe Dragon-Smith; Environment and Natural Resources, GNWT; Environment Canada; Sam Gamble; Courtney Howard; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Nature Geoscience; Kevin O’Reilly; Andrew Robinson; Fred Sangris; Craig Scott; Jim Sparling; Daniel T’seleie; United Nations Environment Programme; University of Alaska Fairbanks; Chris Vaughn; William Gagnon, Ecology North.
Already we are seeing
the impacts of degrading permafrost around town as roads and runways rise and fall, water and sewer mains burst, and buildings sink, resulting in more frequent and costly maintenance. Increased snow loads because of warmer, wetter snow, pose particular challenges for the roofs and foundations of buildings constructed for a dry climate, while forest fires will affect critical infrastructure like transmission lines. Rising temperatures will further complicate safe arsenic storage at Giant Mine.
Becoming Climate Leaders Clearly, we need to aggressively decarbonize. An expansion of local hydro, electrified transportation, and the use of wood pellets/ chips for heat are all important and feasible goals, as is a rapid increase in public and active transportation. The city has already taken steps in the right direction. There is a growing network of trails in Yellowknife that supports self-propelled commuters. The multiplex, fieldhouse, public works garage, city warehouse, and firehall are all being heated by wood pellets – an environmentally and fiscally responsible move. Scandinavian countries have taken this a step further by capturing the carbon released by biomass heating systems and returning it to the ground. The result is negative carbon emissions. A new study by Ecology North shows that retrofitting homes for better fuel efficiency has tremendous potential to reduce carbon emissions while also growing the northern economy. Improvements in insulation and weatherproofing, and the installation of solar panels and energy efficient doors, windows, heaters, and appliances have the added benefit of reducing energy costs for homeowners. Ecology North estimates a retrofit program would generate 87 jobs and $11.8 million in GDP gains in each year the program operates.